Int. J. Dev. Biol. 48: 719 - 729 (2004)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.041851jp
© UBC Press

Cubozoan jellyfish: an Evo/Devo model for eyes and other sensory systems

Joram Piatigorsky*,1 and Zbynek Kozmik2

1National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA and 2Institute of Molecular Genetics,Prague, Czech Republic

ABSTRACT Cnidaria are the most basal phylum containing a well-developed visual system located on specialized sensory structures (rhopalia) with eyes and statocyts. We have been exploring the cubozoan jellyfish, Tripedalia cystophora. In addition to containing simple photoreceptive ocelli, each rhopalium in Tridedalia has a large and small complex, camera-type eye with a cellular lens containing three distinct families of crystallins which apparently serve non-lenticular functions. Thus, Tridpedalia recruited crystallins by a gene sharing strategy as have mollusks and vertebrates. Tripedalia has a single Pax gene, PaxB, which encodes a structural and functional Pax 2/5/8-like paired domain as well as an octapeptide and Pax6-like homeodomain. PaxB binds to and activates Tripedalia crystallin promoters (especially J3-crystallin) and the Drosophila rhodopsin rh6 gene in transfection tests and induces ectopic eyes in Drosophila. In situ hybridization showed that PaxB and crystallin genes are expressed in the lens, retina and statocysts. We suggest from these results that an ancestral PaxB gene was a primordial gene in eye evolution and that eyes and ears (mechanoreceptors) may have had a common evolutionary origin. Thus, the numerous structural and molecular features of Tridpalia rhopalia indicate that ancient cubozoan jellyfish are fascinating models for evo/devo insights into eyes and other sensory systems.

Keywords:

Cnidaria, rhopalia, eyes/ocelli, mechanoreceptors/ears, PaxB, evolution

*Corresponding author e-mail: joramp@nei.nih.gov